Tag Archives: Cycling Helmets

PC Steve Hudson’s holiday ! – Lands End to John O’Groats

Safer Cycling August 2015

Just for a change and to show why the Safer Cycling Team feel so passionatly about keeping the vulnerable on our roads safe we thought we would give you an occasional insight into what the members of the Safer Cycling Team do when they are not in uniform. We start with PC 5815 Steve Hudson who is a lifelong cyclist, loves his touring and commuting, and has just completed a “life time acheivement” ride, Lands End to John O’Groats.

 

Hello again all, and thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings.

I have recently finished my first LEJOG, (Lands End to John O’ Groats) and thought I would share some of my experiences with you.

This is a journey I have been waiting to do, and planning in my mind, for about 25 years, and have found an annual excuse to not do it for all that time! I finally decided to commit in late 2014, and began to plan seriously for the trip. I must however thank my wife for her support (and permission!!) as she will read this post, and brownie points are always welcomed to bank when needed.

The decision was made to take 12 days for the trip, but this was trimmed down to 11 after some route planning, only 1000 miles! I knew I would be riding on unfamiliar roads for some of the trip, so made sure I researched as much of the areas as possible, although there is no amount of research that’ll prepare you for the 25% climb up to Forest Glade in Cullompton on day 2. The plan was to camp for about half of the days, and use cheap B & B’s for the remainder, carrying all the kit on my trusty Surly.

I read many online forums, as well as several books, before deciding on my route, and carried Nick Mitchell’s excellent guide for reference. (Other publications are available, and research is recommended) I also had my (sometimes) trusty Sat Nav, and back up maps, both of which failed me on days 2 and 3!

lej.1

I am lucky to work with mostly cyclists who helped with my planning, and agreed to accompany me on a couple of dry runs to test my newly acquired camping kit. Just a word of advice, spend as much as you can afford on a decent sleeping mat and bag, they’re worth their weight in gold! We had a couple of stays up in the Peak District to try and replicate some of the climbing, testing bike and kit in Buxton, Bradwell and the higher points of the Peaks.

After lots of tinkering with loading the bike, I managed to get the final weight down to around 40 kilo’s including the bike and luggage. I also made sure I had suitable gearing to be able to grind up the climbs, a 36 tooth on the back and a touring triple on the front meant I would have more than enough, and I never felt I had run out of gears, even if some of the riding was at walking pace!

I finally set off in mid June with great weather and in great spirits. I spent almost a full day travelling down to Lands End, and spent a night in a nearby B & B to get an early start the next day. If you are planning to do your own LEJOG, make sure you book your train tickets, and more importantly your bike space well in advance. There were a couple of cyclists that were not allowed on the train as they hadn’t booked in advance.lej.2

I cycled down to the Lands End monument early the next day, and due to the hour, I was the only one there. It was a misty and cool morning, and I set off excited to finally be on my way. The first day led me through narrow lanes with stiff climbs and short descents into Looe. It was a tough day, but with no real problems, until I realised that my pump, glasses and rear light had been stolen off my bike! However I set off on day 2 un-flustered and looking forward to another great day on the bike.

After about 10 miles, my Sat Nav crashed, and it was then that I realised my maps were nowhere near detailed enough, and I spent lots of time stopping at junctions to try and remember my planned route. This would turn out to be my hardest day on the bike, and I can see why lots of people abandon the LEJOG this early on! The day was finished with a snapped chain on the approach to the final 25% climb of the day, which I fixed at the roadside as I was determined to cycle every available inch of the journey. I arrived at the excellent Forest Glade Campsite, and even though I was late and everything was closed, the staff opened up the kitchen and made me the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. I must also thank my friends for their well wishes, I really needed them after that day!lej.3

Day 3 was again challenging with navigation, but the riding was truly memorable. My biggest problem, unbelievably, was getting from Bristol to the Severn Bridge. It’s a landmark that can be seen for miles, and following the main road will get you there with few problems. I however decided to follow a route closer to the water, and tried to use coastal paths and NCN routes. It may be that I was tired, but it seemed to take forever to finally reach the bridge, and then rode over into a strong head wind, but at the end of day 3 I arrived in Chepstow, looking forward to a night’s sleep in an actual bed for the first time in a couple of days.

At the start of day 4 I was joined by my cycling friends, who had met me to ride the 100 miles to Shrewsbury and fixed my Sat Nav for me in about 5 minutes! I have never been so glad for assistance, and enjoyed my best ever group ride with great company over a truly memorable route. The riding through the Shropshire Hills was amazing, and the descents were some of the best I’ve ever ridden, not even spoiled by the wasp that decided to sting me in my mouth! We had a great tea stop in Brampton Bryan, where we were schooled on some local history by the proprietor, before photos in front of the famous cloud forming yew hedge. We arrived in Shrewsbury to enjoy a pub tea, before I was left to camp, and continue my journey alone, minus 1 pannier, which was emptied of its contents and kindly taken home by my friends. I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I was for the day’s company, and my spirits were truly lifted.lej.4

Day 5 was spent navigating a lot of urban riding into Blackburn, which was a bit slow going but kept me sharp on the bike. It always seems to be the case that road users are in more of a rush the busier the roads are, and I saw a number of cyclists jumping up the kerb to avoid stopping at traffic lights and junctions, as well as cars and vans blocking junctions as they had failed to plan ahead. A lot of times, the driver seems to see the cyclist as something that needs to be overtaken at all costs, without looking up the road for hazards or slow moving traffic.

There was also a huge amount of younger cyclists wearing headphones, in dark clothing, and with little regard for the laws of the road. I offered kind words of advice on more than 1 occasion, and was typically “thanked” on each of those! It may well be that the Safer Cycling team may be visiting roads near you soon to try and get the message across.

Days 6 was spent through some of the UK’s most beautiful and challenging terrain through the Forest of Bowland, the tip of the Yorkshire Moors, and into the Lake District. The roads around Slaidburn “treated” me to some proper northern weather. Steady rain and swirling winds made the Forest of Bowland challenging, but stunning scenery kept me going with a smile on my face. I arrived in Ambleside looking forward to entering Scotland the next day. The hardest part of the day was not stopping every mile or so to take photo’s!lej.5

On day 7, I cycled through Keswick, Carlisle, and over the border into Scotland. I picked up a riding companion going into Scotland, who was taking a more relaxed attitude to his LEJOG, and had been on the road a couple of weeks. I arrived in Moffat, and enjoyed a great night’s sleep in the excellent Star Hotel, before filling up on supplies for the day’s ahead.

Having never cycled in Scotland before, I was really looking forward to the wide open spaces and dramatic landscapes, and was not disappointed. On days 8 and 9, I stopped in a couple of small cabins on the shores of Loch Lomond and Loch Ness, where the midges were constant company, and enjoyed an amazing ride through the Glencoe Pass, where the temperature seemed to drop 10 degrees. The climb over General Wade’s Military Road is also not to be underestimated! The roads in this part of Scotland are very heavy, mainly due to the extremes of weather, and I wondered whether my 32mm tyres were wide enough at times. The flat sections were hard going, but the ups and downs more than made up for it.

lej.6

On day 10, I decided to try and ride as far as Betty Hill on the northern coast, a distance of about 120 miles, and then wild camp near the beach. The Scottish weather welcomed me after about 60 miles, and after a couple of hours of this, I sought sanctuary in the famous Crask Inn, along with about 20 or so other like minded cyclists. After some much needed food and drink, I decided to push on through the rain. I was then treated to about 30 miles of spectacular cycling up to Betty Hill, where I only saw about half a dozen cars and enjoyed views of Loch Naver and the wilds of Scotland. Unfortunately the constant rain made wild camping impossible as everywhere was under water! I managed to find space in a hotel in Betty Hill, and looked forward to the last 50 miles the next day.

I was welcomed by a sunny morning, light winds, and an unbroken view over some dramatic coastland. The first 20 miles or so have long steady climbs, and fantastic sweeping descents. Anyone who tells you that the last miles of a LEJOG are easy, have either never ridden it, or are far stronger than I! I continued along the coastal road, enjoying the beauty of the beaches and sea views over the gently rolling roads. I finally arrived in John O’ Groats, tired, but with a huge smile on my face and a real sense of achievement.

lej.7

I realise that the LEJOG is ridden by lots of cyclists per year, but anyone that has completed it will tell you they made the journey their own. I was lucky enough to meet some of the friendliest people you could imagine, and I can’t think of anywhere in the world that offers the variety of riding that we enjoy here in the UK. If you are planning your own LEJOG then good luck, you will be tired and there will be times when you wonder why you are doing it, but stick with it, it will live with you for a lifetime.

 

Thanks again for sharing in my experience, and I’ll be back soon with some more Police related issues.

Advertisements

Lights, CAMERA, Action !

Most people detest the idea of the “Big Brother” type society, always being watched, monitored and effectively having your natural behaviour and reactions manipulated by the presence of the all-seeing eyes that we all have become oblivious to, that’s right cameras. But why is it then that sales of vehicle born cameras are at an all-time high. Those same people who in one breath will condemn an intrusion into their privacy at one level will be more than happy to strap a sports style action camera to the front of their bike or cycle helmet, and motorists will eagerly stick a “dashcam” into their car. Some will say it is for their own protection, it’s a safeguard, others will be accused of being “wanna be traffic cops”, and lastly some have to, they have no choice, fleet and company policies will dictate the use of a camera.

We’ve been promising this one for a while, but such is the amount of interest in this subject I felt it only right that we wait, and knowing that the West Midlands Police was going to introduce a new way of “self-reporting” due care and attention type road traffic offences, I wanted a couple of test cases to show exactly what can go right and wrong. But more importantly I wanted to experience the use of cameras and their effectiveness in reporting and prosecuting road traffic offences from a member of the public’s viewpoint. You see even though as a traffic officer I drive a car that has its every move and sound recorded from the moment I get in to the moment I hang up the keys and go home, I have never had any interest in having that same security, or is it scrutiny?, in my social, domestic and pleasure road going experiences.

Traffic officers at work, constantly recorded and recording

Traffic officers at work, constantly recorded and recording

So to do it properly early this year I purchased a high definition camera that has been accompanying me on all my cycling adventures and commutes. Prior to this I have never felt it necessary to have a camera, whether that’s because our day to day experiences as traffic officers make us immune to the fears and worries others have when using the roads, or maybe it’s because our enhanced road sense and occupationally trained defensive style of road use results in us experiencing far less moments of worry than other road users. Which ever it was the results have been interesting and not what you may expect. In 5 months of riding with a camera, day in, day out I have only been involved in one incident that I have considered worthy of reporting. I don’t for a minute think this is the “norm” though, looking at the experiences of other “vulnerable” road users I know it must be because of my defensive riding style and my abnormal perception of what others might rate as a “reportable incident”, which is altered greatly by my day to day experiences  as a traffic officer. After all, I’ve become accustomed to being rammed and driven at regularly, so witnessing a blatant offence, a close pass or having to take avoiding action due to a driver’s ill discipline just counts as a little unwanted attention to me, I’m not saying this is right, it’s just the way I’ve been conditioned through 16 years of being a police officer. You could say I save my reporting efforts for when the uniform is on.

Camera’s everywhere

As well as the obvious cameras on our traffic cars you’d be surprised at just how many road going cameras are out there at the moment. Some ambulances and fire service vehicles carry cameras, as well as the cyclist’s and motorcyclists who have a camera on their helmets or bike, sometimes both front and rear facing. Increasing numbers of private motorists are fitting dashcams, you can even get them incorporated into your sat nav now. Lots of HGV’s have camera’s in the cab, most buses have cameras as do some taxi’s. It’s not improbable to foresee a time when road users without a recording device will be in the minority, after all the technology is now cheap, reliable and readily accessible. Won’t be long before a vehicle manufacturer offers camera’s as an optional extra on all its models, just wait and see.

Is there any room left ? going to need bigger bars! Lights, computer and now the all important camera.

Is there any room left ? going to need bigger bars! Lights, computer and now the all important camera.

It’s not all a bed of roses….

It really isn’t a bed of roses you know, in fact camera use can be a proverbial crown of thorns. Camera’s capture all the good and all the bad in all road users, including the camera carrier. They can work against you as well as for you, take it from someone who is recorded and scrutinised in everything I do on the road whilst at work. So just to start we’ll run through some of the positives and negatives of using your own recording device on the road.

The obvious benefit is in the event of a collision, it can show the reason for the collision and liability. But this could work in favour of the both the camera user and the non-camera user. Footage might show the camera user was liable for the collision, if someone see’s you have a camera and you don’t make the footage available questions will be asked, liability assumed, what is the camera user hiding ?, integrity and honesty questioned, are you starting to see the pitfalls already.

The footage of an incident is all well and good but when presenting camera evidence you will need to also show the period prior and post incident. This reveals or dismisses any events or alleged events that may lead to an incident. The standard of your driving or riding prior to an incident will be looked at, your demeanour prior and post incident will be scrutinised, everything about you will be questioned. Footage from a dashcam that reveals blaring in vehicle music, a mobile phone conversation, or the road user displaying an aggressive demeanour using language littered with profanities all paints a picture and will affect both liability, prosecution and court decisions. So if you’re running a camera, its best behaviour at all times.

One of the less obvious effects of an easily spotted camera is the way other road users start interacting with you. When I cycle with a camera on top of my helmet, which stands out, it is amazing how better vehicles start interacting with you on the road, passes become more considered, more space is given, I’ve got into the habit of almost turning my head to a side profile to display the fact I have a camera to traffic to the traffic approaching from the rear, the difference is significant. Put the camera on the handle bars where it is less obvious and traffic from the rear can’t see it and we’re back to the usual ill-considered passing. Maybe someone should start making cycling clothing with “Camera on Board” emblazoned across it and providing stickers for vehicles with the same message. The psychological and behavioural effect on road users if they realise they are being recorded and it can be used against them if their road use falls below the expected safe and competent standard is significant. Maybe we should make them compulsory,……hhmmmm anyone thinking George Orwells 1984 yet?

Helmet mounted cameras, easily seen, do they offer protection in their own right ?

Helmet mounted cameras, easily seen, do they offer protection in their own right ?

 

Don’t change your behaviour if you use a camera. Don’t go looking for incidents or those committing offences. If this is the adventure that you do seek then consider joining the police instead, dealing with those who’s road use falls below the required standard is highly confrontational. Road rage is common and in the most unfortunate of cases people have lost their lives at the side of a road in altercations that commenced following a minor traffic incident. I’ve often said that aside from domestic incidents, when we go into someone’s home and start taking control, I’ve never seen an average person anger so quickly and become so confrontational with the police as when their standard of driving or riding is criticised, often despite the presence of insurmountable evidence proving their road use was sub-standard. This is because of firstly, the impact of any prosecution is often highly significant on their day to day lives, points will effect insurance, employment, fines are high and costly, and secondly it’s also because most road users take it as a personal infringement on their character, mainly due to the fact that most have never stopped and considered the standard of their own riding or driving. If an incident does occur and you capture it on camera, stay calm, do not interact with the offender, and remember you’re being recorded also by your camera. There will be a few that submit evidence of a minor traffic offence being committed which then goes on to show themselves committing a far more serious public order offence. Own goals are common in such situations, the offending road user ends up with an educational course or points, the reporting camera user ends up with a criminal record !.

The reporting process and its inevitable consequences

So you’ve got your camera, you’ve completed your journey during which you’ve been unfortunate to be involved in or witness an incident that you feel needs reporting and action being taken against the offending road user. What do you do next?

Well if the incident was a collision and the police did not attend as it was a non-injury damage only collision, then you will need to report in the West Midlands Police area by way of a self-reporting form available from any Police Station front  office or by calling 101. The report is completed by you and returned with the all important video, it goes to our traffic process offence and they will investigate the collision and deal with any resulting prosecutions.

If the incident does not involve a collision and it is a “Due care and attention”  type offence you wish to report then again it’s a trip to your nearest  Police Station or call 101, only this time it’s the “Due Care / Driving Standards” self reporting form you will require. Again, the report is completed by you and returned with the all important video, it goes to our traffic process offence and they will investigate the incident and deal with any resulting prosecutions.

With both submissions remember independent witnesses are just as important as quality video coverage. Video won’t show everything, trust me we have seen the best video footage miss vital evidence due to a fixed focus and direction, helmet cams usually don’t suffer from these deficiencies but dash cams and fixed point cameras on bikes will.

Once your report is submitted the wheels of justice start turning, but please be aware they can turn very slowly due to necessary legal process and the usual administrative holdups that all prosecutions encounter. You see once your report is submitted the member of WMP staff dealing must send out a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) to the vehicles keeper requesting driver details at the time of the incident. This must be done within 14 days of the incident. The recipient of the NIP then has 28 days to respond. If the keeper states someone else was driving then another NIP is sent to that person, with another 28 days to respond. Already you see you could have a maximum of 70 days before we are even in a position to commence a prosecution. The wheels can turn slowly and if your incident results in a court case this can be sometimes be up to 12 months after the actual incident. So don’t go expecting instant results, there are no such things as instant results when it comes to road traffic law.

What should I report?

Firstly only report if you are prepared to attend court. The offender in your incident may settle for an educational type resolution or a conditional offer of points and a fine, but as we know all too well, most will defend their licences with the same tenacity as their family’s wellbeing, so always expect to attend court. To attend court you may need to take time off work, at court you can be cross examined by the defendant or their legal representative and enjoy all the same experiences we as traffic officers endure on a weekly basis.

The rule here is the offending road users standard of driving or riding must have fallen below that expected of a safe and competent driver or rider. To put it in simple terms we are looking at single standalone incidents that would cause you to fail a driving test. Examples of this are contravening a give way at a junction, running a red light, mobile phone use, a close pass (by close we mean inches not feet), you get the idea.

A true close pass, literally inches away caused by a badly planned overtake by the HGV on a blind crest.

A true close pass, literally inches away caused by a badly planned overtake by the HGV on a blind crest.

Examples we have recently prosecuted using camera footage include a cyclist who was forced to come to a stop to avoid a HGV that failed to give way at a traffic island, if the cyclist hadn’t stopped the results would have been unthinkable. Also a vehicle that carried out an overtake that contravened a keep left bollard and as a result nearly hit the reporting driver head on. These are the sorts of incident we want to know about and if the evidence is presented will gladly deal with the offender.

We will only proceed if there is a realistic probability of a successful prosecution, a prosecution that must be in the public interest. If I tell you that two traffic officers with accompanying in car video can struggle to convince a court of an offending drivers offending you will start to get an idea of how convincing your self-reported incident and accompanying evidence will need to be.

Last but not least if you are going to report an incident don’t post the footage on any social media site or the like until any proceedings have been finalised.  Such clips bring with them views and comments, all might effect proceedings or prevent them. So if you feel you must share it with the Social Media masses prior to a court, take your 15 minutes of fame but reconsider reporting it to ourselves as you could jeopardise any prosecution before it has even started.

A New Dawn

Now after reading this you might think why even bother, well despite the popular misconception that we are not interested in these incidents, we truly are. The standards of road use are important to you and so they are important to us. We know how low the standards of road use can drop, we are out there 24/7 combatting the most dangerous. But we also know that we can’t be everywhere at once, some will always get away with it. But if the ever increasing amount of road going cameras means that those that previously got away with it will now see the their law breaking actions answered for, then it can only be a good thing.

This is a new work stream for WMP, its new and developing, so please bear with us. We need a shift in the viewpoint of the masses to one where road traffic offending and its sometimes tragic consequences become socially unacceptable. If the growing trend of those with road going camera’s reporting offending becomes part of that, then we welcome it with open arms, please just stay safe and don’t become disillusioned if you don’t get the result you wanted when reporting or at court.

Oh and also please realise this article has mentioned new and developing WMP policy and procedures regarding the public reporting road traffic offending and the submission of camera evidence in support. Your local force may not do the same, please be patient with them, due to the administrative and staff commitments such new work streams demand, some may struggle to keep pace with demand for a like approach given the current resource vs demand equation faced by police forces. One day hopefully it will be the accepted norm.

 

Until next time

 

Safe journey’s all………..”CUT…. its a wrap”

 

Get on Your Bikes and Ride

 

 

Get on your bikes and ride!Steve's piccy 1

This time around we have a little introductory blog from PC 5815 Steve Hudson the “diesel engine” of the Safer Cycling Team. We did promise a piece on the use of on board camera’s in cycling and their role in prosecutions, this is on the way, a couple of us are using camera’s ourselves on our commutes so it should be well worth waiting for. But for now here’s Steve, he shares the workload on the Safer Cycling Team so you’ll be getting a few pieces from him in the near future…

Hello all and thanks for taking the time to engage with us again.

I would like to take the time to discuss more cycling related issues, and hopefully give you another view of not only the Safer Cycling Team, but also a cycling Traffic officer.

Firstly I would like to introduce myself. I work with Mark Hodson on the Safer Cycling Team, and am also stationed at the same Traffic office in Chelmsley Wood, working 24/7. I have over 18 years of service as a Police officer, 30 years experience as a road cyclist, and even longer as a Star Wars fan!

Steve's piccy 5

The “Diesel Engine” on tour

Now as we all know, there are many different types of cyclists. From the elite racers, all the way down to the youngest of cyclists starting out on their first balance bike, and we all have our part to play in the future of safe cycling on the roads. I am what can probably be described as a reliable diesel engined cyclist. I’m never going to trouble any Strava records, but I’ll be the one with a little left in the tank at the end of a long ride to enjoy my tea and cake, after carting too much luggage around the countryside!

I would consider myself a pragmatic cyclist in that I am a believer of being safe above all else. We have all seen instances where road users, cyclists included, have put themselves in appalling road positions, even though they are putting themselves and others at personal risk. I have seen motor vehicles perform unnecessary overtaking manoeuvres close to junctions and other hazards, and cyclists undertake moving vehicles with no escape plan in place. There are, of course, countless other infractions from all road users that not only put people in danger, but openly contravene road traffic law, but these offences have been covered before, and will be done so again in the future. Bad road use is not the sole property of the motor vehicle, however the risks are obviously far greater due to the size and weight of a motor vehicle over that of a cyclist and bike.

Now before I am lambasted from all angles, I am aware that all road users have the right have their views heard, and I am always welcoming of feedback from all groups, however, this blog is being published with a slightly different agenda, and really as an introduction from me to you. We will continue to address road traffic law, for all road users, and will publish more on this in the future. To plagiarise a great teacher, “Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” Moral victory to the first person to guess the teacher!

For those that have met me at our cycling events, you will know that I am always keen to promote the use of cycling as a means of transport, as well as a leisure interest. The thought of sitting in a line of single occupied vehicle’s, in a daily slog to and from work, only to be overtaken by cyclists, and sometimes pedestrians, would be too much for me. I know there are many that have no other choice but to commute by car, but there are also many that do. For those that haven’t tried it yet, give it a try, you’ll be amazed at how much livelier you’ll feel at work in the morning after a cycle ride. I am aware that barriers are in place that prevent lots of people being able to cycle to work, childcare, insufficient facilities at their place of work, length of journey being just a few, but I also know that there are a large percentage of motorists without these barriers, who would benefit the overloaded roads network by the occasional cycle to work. I am expecting the usual feedback on this subject, so don’t hold back!

I would like to take a moment to just cover a couple of points from an earlier blog relating to helmet use. I know that there are still a large number of cyclists who don’t wear helmets during their daily commute, and I also know that the compulsory wearing of helmets is not law and probably won’t be anytime soon. I do cycle myself without a helmet on rare occasions, however these are usually as a heavily laden cycle tourist cycling up some of the wonderful peaks of our country, at little more than walking pace and with very little road traffic. I am not going to get on my soapbox to quote statistics on the virtues of helmet use, but I would like to say in my years of experience, I’ve yet to see a cyclist related road traffic collision worsened by the wearing of a helmet. I can genuinely say that since joining the Traffic department some years ago, and seeing the consequences of collisions involving cyclists, I wear my helmet far more than I used to.

What I am seeing as a growing trend of commuting cyclists, is the use of headphones either to listen to music, or converse on the phone. Now without pointing out the obvious risks, consider this. Your vital 2 senses as a cyclist are vision and hearing, and when you intentionally deprive yourself of one of these senses, your awareness of the dangers around you obviously decreases hugely. Before I am reminded, there is no law preventing you from listening to music whilst cycling, but you wouldn’t cycle with your eyes closed, even using the force, so why risk it?

A Safer Cycling Exchanging Places event in action

A Safer Cycling Exchanging Places event in action

We, as the Safer Cycling Team, are lucky to have the opportunity to share our views and thoughts with you in a public forum, with our growing commitment to our Cycle Safety days with support from our partnership agencies and the ongoing assistance of Jaguar Land Rover. Our events will always be advertised unashamedly on our Twitter feed, and it would be great to see you there. Whether it’s to take a HGV eye view of the road, sample the freebies on offer, or just chat about anything cycling with us. Please come along, despite reports to the contrary, Traffic officers are approachable!

And finally, to quote a great man recently passed, “I think it’s my adventure, my trip, my journey, and I guess my attitude is, let the chips fall where they may.”

Steve Hudson

 

 

 

Helmets, speeding and cake!

Well then, after our little introduction last time around this is where the traffic blog begins in earnest. So let’s start with a subject that causes the foundations of social media to shake with the choruses of “Yays” and “Nays”, every time it gets a mention on our twitter feed, that subject is of course…

Cycling Helmets, should you be wearing one?

“To wear, or not to wear” that is the question. No other subject stirs such feeling on both sides as this seemingly insignificant matter, given everything else that dominates our working landscape and resulting Twitter feed. With the recent explosion in popularity of both recreational cycling and commuting by pedal power, has come the ever increasingly volatile cycling helmet debate, that sometimes draws a surprising amount of vitriol from both camps.

Now before we continue along this path that is like skipping through a firing range, no matter how careful you are you will always draw fire from somewhere, let me make it clear the following views are representative of my own thoughts and in no way are the formal policies or thinking of the West Midlands Police on this matter. Neither am I going to cover law changes, cycling infrastructure or the balance of liability, this is about the decision as to whether to protect your noggin or not when astride a bicycle.

Before I can give you my opinion on the subject, it is only fair that I cover some of the most commonly thrown spears of argument from both sides, and debunk some very false arguments.

“They only work if you’re travelling under 12mph”. Utter rubbish, for a start if it were true, the professional cycling world wouldn’t bother with them. With speeds in the pro peloton averaging somewhere in the 25mph region, not one of those riders would be without a helmet. When you bear witness to some of the horrendous pileups that occur in racing at speeds well in excess of the 25mph average, and the forces involved, the fact that none come away with significant head injuries is in itself testimony to the effectiveness of modern cycling helmets. Just check out the manufacturers web sites and helmet testing regimes if your want further proof.

Embed from Getty Images

“They won’t save you from a ton of steel travelling at 50mph or a 44 tonne artic if it runs over you”. This is largely true, but there isn’t a lot that would save you under such circumstances apart from a miracle of biblical proportion. They do however give you a fighting chance of avoiding a serious head injury in “some” collisions. We must also remember that it might not be a collision, the cyclist is blessed with an elevated riding position and forward motion, two of the prime requisites needed in the formula for a serious head injury, just throw in a pothole, slippery surface or sharp (sometimes warranted) braking or the like and the formula is complete. I myself have been saved from a serious head injury under such circumstances, when a wet road and lack of talent saw me hitting my head on the kerb of a traffic island at well over 20mph. My head survived the blow, which as my hands were still on my drop bars when I hit the road, took full force with no time to break the fall. All I lost that day was a lot of skin and pride, thanks to the helmet I was wearing.

We have, unfortunately, dealt with incidents, which have resulted in the cyclist losing their life to a head injury that could have been prevented or lessened had a helmet been worn. Modern medicine is an amazing thing, we have witnessed people being brought back from the dead numerous times having suffered massive injuries, however a major head trauma remains a largely un-survivable injury.

“More people die in cars of head injuries than cyclists”. This again is largely true, however it must be placed in context by the fact that the majority that die of head injuries in vehicle born collisions do so because they or another passenger is not wearing a seat belt, either incorrectly or not at all, or they are killed due to intrusion into the vehicle interior. We don’t suggest they wear helmets because they are generally encased in steel and airbags, which as long as a seatbelt is worn correctly, does a pretty good job of protecting the occupant in the event of a collision.

“It stops people from cycling”. Does it? Cycling is booming and it seems that the majority are equipped with helmets. It’s actually quite unusual to see a commuter or recreational cyclist without a helmet of late. Besides helmets are cool, some of the coolest people on the planet wear a helmet, Sir Brad, Cavendish, Marianne Vos, the Brownlee Brothers, Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara, X Wing Pilots, Boba Fett, the Knights of the Round Table… I’ve gone off on a tangent again here ! Anyway, they are an accepted and increasingly important part of cycling fashion, can’t be seen in a lid that doesn’t match your bike or cycling apparel, can you?

“Why should I wear a helmet, it’s the drivers that endanger us” Sometimes true, sometimes not. Plenty of cyclists crash all by themselves (like myself) or endanger themselves through either judicious actions or lack of road sense. The tribal attitude of cyclist vs motorist is seemingly perpetuated by the “few” on both sides of the argument, that are incapable of accepting that to build a better future all must accept their failings, before we can truly share the road.

Having covered a few of the arguments here’s my take on the helmet debate, and I think I’ve got it pretty cornered really. So whether you’re a “Yay or a Nay” read it, digest it, mull it over, and sleep on it. Do not start cracking out your 140 characters on our Twitter feed without rationalizing in full the following statement and its obvious implications. Deep breath having been taken, here goes…

“Wearing a cycling helmet is akin to wearing a lifejacket whilst on the water, you don’t have to do it, but you’re guarding against an un-quantified risk that you know exists but hope you never encounter. A life jacket would not save you in all situations, but would you advise someone not to wear one? And for those of supreme confidence and ability just remember that the best of swimmers would not sail into a storm without a life jacket, nor would the greatest fighter pilots fly into battle without a parachute. And let’s face it, sometimes when you’re on the road sometimes it is like sailing into a storm or flying into battle, there is risk out there, our daily experiences and the casualty figures show that, please guard against part of that risk by wearing a helmet. If you don’t you or your loved ones might have to live with the consequences.

The same could be said of seatbelts as well, but we’ll talk about those next time.

Moving on…

Reflections on another speed campaign

It’s been a few weeks since the last speed campaign, following which, some of the most dramatic and heart wrenching footage of road users losing their lives due to excess speed we have seen has been released. Footage that even made the most hardened of traffic officers draw a sharp intake of breath.

The shock that such footage causes amongst the motoring public however never seems to dull the right foot or throttle hand of the motoring majority though. Let’s face it, when we stand at the side of the road with a Pro Laser we don’t fall short of target practice, do we. It’s a problem that is not reducing or has even plateaued, and makes me think that the one plus point of congestion is that it slows road users to steady crawl, saving a good many lives!

Now you don’t need me to tell you that speeding is a problem, because the majority of you reading this will be on the road daily and witness those who repeatedly place their desire to get somewhere seconds quicker well above the lives of those they share the roads of our region with.

So if I were to tell you that speeding kills far more people than drink driving, you would think that like drink driving, speeding would be socially unacceptable. But alas it is not, why not you may ask? Well some argue that it’s because at some point most drivers have experienced intoxication and realise the sheer senseless stupidity of driving under such circumstances. However, the vast majority have not born witness to the carnage a speeding motor vehicle causes, and as a result are willing to risk their own lives, and those of the innocent, to save a few extra seconds of their day. I however think different; I really think that the British motoring public all have the odd moment when they have a selfish total disregard for others. Why do I think this, well it’s because I have to listen to the endless tirade of poor excuses at the roadside, that when I counter with “Have you seen the advert when the child dies because the car is travelling above 30mph” and I get the inevitable “Yes” I then ask “Why are you speeding then”,….. they say silence is golden……

Traffice officer PC Tina Benbow on patrol.

We carry out our speed checks at locations that have a history of serious collisions, or just past a school, a pedestrian crossing, a playing field/playground or even one of those wonderful signs that flash to tell you that your speeding, yet even here we rarely get chance to raise our speed gun before the next “customer” comes charging towards us.

We aim to educate primarily, make motorists see the errors of their rapid ways, try to reform driving habits that endanger. We offer courses instead of prosecution, councils run campaigns, static cameras line the country’s roads and speed bumps and traffic calming measures lie across them. Manufactures make vehicles with speed limiters and audible warnings that can be set for road limits for those to distracted or to lazy glance occasionally at their speedo. Yet despite all of this my trigger finger still aches through overuse at the end of every speed check, and my pen takes the resulting battering. The courts see daily, motorists who have accumulated enough points to achieve the shameful accolade of a “totter”, those who have managed to reach disqualification through their unquenchable need for speed. There isn’t a lot more we and our road safety partners can do, it really is down to the great British motoring public to change the way you drive. However with 20mph limits on the horizon, I fear for my trigger finger, and the stationery cupboards stock of pens and tickets!

Prove me wrong, slow down folks, make speeding socially unacceptable, however I think we won’t be short of Pro Laser practice until the vast majority of vehicles drive themselves.

Cake and its importance in policing the road

Wonderful thing cake, in all its many forms it truly is a magnificent thing, especially when combined with a cup of tea. But what role does it have to play in policing the roads I hear you ask? Well come close and I’ll let you into a secret, you may not have noticed but the average traffic officer is partial to a bit of cake. Why is this?, well cake never fails to lighten the mood of the worst day, and seeing as most traffic officers are a little dour in demeanour, a little sugar enhanced calorific mood lifter goes down nicely at any time of the day. Cake is readily available and can be eaten 24hrs a day and never even fails to put a smile on my face and smooth the furrows in my brow, and I was born frowning and haven’t stopped since!

And of course for those of us who cycle to work burning somewhere between 1000 and 2500 calories a day alone during our commute, we need cheap carbs to keep us going.

Next time we’ll discuss minimum driving standards, the one reason why you really should wear your seatbelt but never thought of, and the important role Star Wars plays in keeping our roads safe.

Until then, safe journeys all.

PC Mark Hodson
E unit